From the endless line of desserts and the intoxicating smell of French fries to the sizzling sound of burgers, school cafeterias are every child’s dream. Ordering healthy options can be a challenge for young children when they are surrounded by their favorite treats. Teach your child how to order a balanced meal before they go back to school to help ensure your child eats right all year.

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Healthy Go-To Choices

According to the USDA and HHS 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthy go-to food items that are good for your child and tasty, too, are:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of proteins, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products

Learning to Balance

Teach your child the simple math of building a balanced meal. That means:

  • ½ of the plate should be fresh fruit, salad, or veggies
  • ¼ of the plate should be a starch (grains, potatoes, rice or quinoa)
  • ¼ of the plate should be lean protein
  • Low-fat white milk or low-fat yogurt on the side

Cafeterias have a variety of food choices, so every balanced meal depends on the daily options.

Pack a Lunch

The best way to watch what your child eats is to personally pack school lunches for or with your child. This allows for portion control, monitored meals, and a variety of healthier choices. Pack a sandwich on whole grain bread, baked chips or pretzels, bottled water, small yogurt or white milk, and fresh fruit or vegetable. Personalize your child’s lunch by adding a small note or sticker to help brighten their day.

The cafeteria carries an endless variety of treats. Moderation is key, so teach your child how to pick wisely and order a balanced meal. Limit your child to eating unhealthy choices only once or twice a per week, and teach them to enjoy the healthy options instead.

Updated Sept. 15, 2020

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